Murali Vijay’s Test future seemed to be hanging in the balance when he was sent home following the third Test in England. By then, Rohit Sharma’s Test future already seemed to have tipped over considering he wasn’t even picked for that tour. The Mumbai right-hander had been left out after the South Africa series at the start of the year, and didn’t even feature at home against the West Indies. You never say never in Indian cricket though. And following the debacle in England – based on the eventual scoreline anyway- Vijay and Rohit have forged their way back for the Test tour to Australia later this year.
The throwback or second chance theme – depending on which way you look at it – to the Test squad also sees the return of veteran stumper Parthiv Patel as the second wicketkeeper behind Rishabh Pant, ironically some 15 years after he went to Australia as India’s main man behind the stumps.
Patel too, like Rohit, seemed to have been left in the mire after being dropped following the tour to South Africa. While the overall squad is as full-strength as India could have hoped for, there is a significant gap in the middle with Hardik Pandya being left out after not having recovered in time from his injury. It’ll mean India will be without an “official” all-rounder in a Test squad for the first time since the last time they toured Australia.
Pandya had become a fixture since his debut last year, he’d been preceded by Stuart Binny. Pandya had in fact been dropped from a Test team for the first time at The Oval before he subsequently picked up the unfortunate injury at the Asia Cup which will keep him out of the tour Down Under.
India, however, are spoilt for options in the bowling department with five fast bowlers and three spinners. And while Prasad admitted that the selectors hadn’t considered a like-for-like replacement because in his words, “it is difficult to match Hardik’s all-round ability. We don’t see that kind of talent in India.” The chairman of selectors also indicated that the committee expected Bhuvaneshwar Kumar to “come good” in that role.
With the return of the 34-year-old Vijay, the writing now is on the wall as far as Shikhar Dhawan’s Test career is concerned with Prithvi Shaw and KL Rahul retaining their spots at the top of the order. Rohit, meanwhile, ends his Test squad exodus at the expense of Karun Nair, who was benched for all five Tests in England and now has been left out completely.
Vijay had a stellar tour of Australia four years ago where he scored a fluent century at Brisbane and four half-centuries while averaging 60.25 across the four Tests. It was a period where he’d established himself as India’s premier opener, especially away from home, and was being counted amongst the best going around in the world. The Tamil Nadu opener has struggled to reproduce that form this year. He wasn’t among the runs in South Africa and was left out after failing in the first two Tests in England.
“Vijay had been dropped from the England series. He went back and played county cricket. He showed intent and performed well. Considering the intensity of the series, we considered him for Australia,” said Prasad.
With Dhawan seemingly out of the picture as far as Test cricket is concerned, the significant inexperience of Shaw and the blow hot, blow cold nature of Rahul’s Test returns, the selectors were perhaps left with little choice but going back to the man who till a year back was their most trustworthy opener. It didn’t help that the only other option, based on recent Test squad selections, was Mayank Agarwal, who despite his glut of domestic runs is yet to make his debut in international cricket.
Rohit’s Test career has been a case of unfulfilled promise and a series of ungainly dismissals interspersed with brief shows of his well-proven skill as a batsman. He had an untoward tour of Australia in 2014-15, scoring only a solitary half-century in 6 innings and averaging only 28.83 overall. He was left out in between and brought back for the final Test at Sydney.
He didn’t play a Test outside the subcontinent thereafter before playing a couple of Tests in South Africa, where he again failed to capitalize. “He is a back-foot player and it will be suited in the conditions there,” said Prasad.
But like Vijay, Rohit now has a chance to reignite his Test career as India look to once and for all live up to their pursuit of winning abroad.